Are the leaders of the Western world all "racist"? That's what you might think listening to Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon in an interview yesterday with the Times of Israel. At the tail end of the article—which rightly caused a stir for Danon's denial that Israel's government supports a peace deal with the Palestinians—the deputy defense minister stood by a little-noted seven-month-old comment. In November, Danon had said the Obama administration's criticisms of Israel's plans to build settlements in the West Bank "can be described as nothing less than ‘racist.'" Danon stood by that claim today, with his staff accusing Barack Obama of having singled out "Jews" for building in occupied territories in the West Bank and outskirts of East Jerusalem. (Pressed on where Obama mentioned Jews, Danon's staff said media accounts conflated Jews and Israelis, but then herself described settlements as "Jewish/Israeli homes.")
Yet the Obama administration hasn't been the only one criticizing settlements. Broadsides against Israel's on-going project in the occupied territories come from virtually everywhere in the world. Kerry's recent condemnations were met by those of his Czech counterpart, despite the Czech Republic's position one of Israel's top international allies. And that's true of Israel's other European allies, too. So it's no wonder that the European Union came out and blamed settlements for contributing to Israel's growing isolation. "It is almost impossible to explain to any European why settlement is continuing all the time," said Andreas Reinicke, Europe's top official for the peace process, in an interview with JTA. "It is difficult to explain to Europeans why increased settlement activities mean an increase of security for the State of Israel." Reinicke was speaking to the possibility that Europe may differentiate between Israeli products originating either in Israel proper or in the occupied territories, a measure he said was gaining steam.
But today another report in the Israeli daily Maariv raised an even more harrowing possibility for Israel: that Europe may back a Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court and press a case against Israel over settlements. The right-leaning Jewish Press picked up on the report, which was originally in Hebrew:
Europe is ready to boost efforts by the Palestinians in the U.N. in general and the International Criminal Court in the Hague in particular, if efforts to renew the political process fail due to continued “settlement construction.” This blunt message was passed by senior European diplomats to the prime minister’s office, according to Ma’ariv.
Most of the world is united in opposing increased settlement construction, but that hasn't stopped it. Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exhibited some "settlement restraint," though that shouldn't be confused with a freeze. What's more, his government recently went ahead with issuing contracts for new construction, a move that Sarah Wildman notes stands as a "provocation," particularly because it would be difficult to reverse.
While even the U.S. views settlement expansion as "illegitimate," its veto at the U.N. Security Council was all that stood between the world and a condemnatory 2011 resolution (the resolution was tailored to match U.S. language objecting to settlements). And Barack Obama recently dropped a demand that the Israelis freeze settlement construction so that talks between the parties can start. (The Palestinian Authority, for its part, has stuck by the pre-condition.) With the U.S. shielding Israel from criticism in international fora and refusing to attach any consequences of its own for settlement growth, the Europeans appear to be taking matters into their own hands, or at least threatening to do so behind closed doors in order to elicit action from the Israelis. If the latest reported threats are to be believed, Israel's deepening isolation over continued settlement growth could be demonstrated by more than just criticisms from world leaders.
The possibility of the Palestinians going to the ICC has been a constant fear for Israelis since the Palestinians began a program of gaining membership in a host of international organizations. But the International Crisis Group pointed out a while back that the Israeli complaints amount to an attempt to "immunize" Israel from international law and that some of the fears are overblown: the ICC maintains standards for cases brought before it, and Palestinian cases would need to pass muster before being accepted. The best way, it turns out, to avoid being brought up on charges for violating international laws is to not violate international laws. Unfortunately for Israel, its settlement project is regarded by most of the world as doing just that.